Rosh Ha-shana on Shabbat

  • Rav Avraham Marcus

By Dr. Avraham Marcus




Rosh Ha-shana, the start of the Jewish year, is marked by the mitzva of blowing the shofar. Indeed, teki'at shofar is the primary religious activity mandated by the Torah on Rosh Ha-shana. Nevertheless, when Rosh Ha-shana falls on Shabbat, the mitzva of shofar remains unfulfilled. Clearly, there must be a compelling reason for omitting it.


The two Talmuds, Yerushalmi and the Bavli, present different approaches to this question. The Yerushalmi concludes that the Torah itself disallows the mitzva of shofar on Shabbat. Thus, the Yerushalmi fundamentally understands the mitzva of shofar in a way that makes it inappropriate on Shabbat. The Bavli explains the prohibition on Shabbat as a rabbinic enactment. This position provides an insight into an aspect of the mitzva of teki'at shofar deemed by the Bavli to be of primary importance. In other words, the positions of the Talmuds on the lack of teki'at shofar on Shabbat shed light on their understandings of the essence of the mitzva of shofar.




A) Bavli vs. Yerushalmi


The Mishna (Rosh Ha-shana [R.H.] 29b) states,


"When Rosh Ha-shana occurs on Shabbat, teki'ot were blown in the 'Mikdash' and not in the 'Medina.'"


Rashi and a number of Rishonim understand "Mikdash" to mean the Temple per se, while Rambam (Perush Ha-Mishna, ad loc.; Hil. Shofar 2:8) explains that "Mikdash" refers to the courts that convened on the Temple Mount and to the people who lived in Yerushalayim and its environs. The Mishna continues by noting that after the destruction of the Temple, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted that the shofar be blown on Shabbat in all communities having a beit din (rabbinic court), but that the blowing be performed only in the presence of the beit din.


The Yerushalmi (R.H. 4:1) cites the seemingly contradictory Torah texts of "yom teru'a" (a day of teru'a - Bamidbar 29:1) and "zikhron teru'a" (a remembrance of teru'a - Vayikra 23:24), explaining that "yom teru'a" applies to weekdays and "zikhron teru'a," in which the teru'a is "recalled" but not actually performed, to Shabbat.


If so, why is the shofar blown in the "Mikdash" even when Rosh Ha-shana occurs on Shabbat? The Yerushalmi cites a further Torah derivation: the proximity of the phrase "yom teru'a" to the word "ve-hikravtem"[1] (and you shall bring sacrifices). This teaches that in the Temple (the site of the bringing of sacrifices), Rosh Ha-shana remains a "day of teru'a," i.e., the shofar is blown even on Shabbat.


The Bavli (R.H. 29b), considering the same question, quotes the same Torah texts as the Yerushalmi. However, when faced with the question of why shofar blowing on Shabbat takes place in "Mikdash" exclusively, Rava prefers a different approach, citing a rabbinic concern that one may come to carry the shofar four cubits in the public domain (gezeira de-Rava, Rava's decree). As a consequence, the teki'ot on Shabbat were prohibited everywhere except the Mikdash, where rabbinic prohibitions often do not apply (Ran, R.H. 8a in Rif pages). Additionally, the influence of the Kohanim and the courts that sat on the Temple Mount would presumably prevent such a violation. R. Yochanan b. Zakkai used a similar rationale to allow teki'at shofar on Shabbat in cities having a beit din. Contrary to common understanding, the Shabbat prohibition of playing a musical instrument[2] is not the basis for prohibiting the blowing of the shofar on Shabbat. Indeed, shofar blowing that does not fulfill any mitzva is permitted.[3]


To summarize: The Yerushalmi says that the Torah itself mandates that on Shabbat the shofar should be blown only in the "Mikdash," but not elsewhere. According to the Bavli, however, the Torah mandates that the shofar be blown everywhere even on Shabbat, but the rabbis forbade it outside the "Mikdash."


B) Considerations in Support of the Yerushalmi


The rationale of Rava poses difficulties. Tosafot (R.H. 29b, s.v. Shema; Sukka 43a, s.v. Ve-ya'avirenu) indicate that the rabbinic concern is not about the most likely violation of Shabbat, i.e., an individual carrying a shofar from the private to the public domain;[4] rather, it is for the unlikely case of finding a shofar in the public domain, picking it up with the intent to carry it a distance of four cubits, and doing so. Why would such an unlikely scenario trigger the neglect of a positive mitzva?


Moreover, if one unwittingly violates a prohibition while attempting to perform a mitzva, he is exempt from a chatat (sin offering), and may even be considered not to have performed a prohibited act.[5] Why, then, would the Rabbis defer doing a Torah mitzva on the basis of a concern that is, at most, a minor violation?


A second point relates to R. Yochanan b. Zakkai's allowance for individuals to blow the shofar in the presence of beit din on Shabbat. If the concern is carrying the shofar in the public domain, this will have already happened by the time one has arrived at the beit din. Perhaps an individual's sensitivity is increased by the awareness of his limitation, namely, that he may blow the shofar in the presence of beit din. However, this answer does not suffice for the opinion that permits the teki'ot only in the presence of the Beit Din Ha-gadol, the High Court (R.H. 29b); a twenty-three-member beit din certainly is capable of generating the appropriate sensitivity. Furthermore, Rambam (Hil. Shofar 2:9) requires that the beit din whose presence allows teki'at shofar on Shabbat be one that received authority in Eretz Yisrael (musmakh) and that participated in kiddush ha-chodesh (sanctification of the new moon). Again, the impact of a beit din on the people of the city should not be significantly affected by the source of their authority or by their having functioned in establishing the calendar.


None of these questions applies to the rationale of the Yerushalmi. Indeed, there are indications that, regarding teki'at shofar on Shabbat, the rationale of the Yerushalmi is preferred, even though we generally prefer the Bavli to the Yerushalmi.[6] For example, when Rosh Ha-shana falls on Shabbat, the phrase "zikhron teru'a" replaces "teru'a" in the Amida.


The Sifrei (Vayikra 25:9) quotes a third Torah derivation for not sounding the shofar when Rosh Ha-shana falls on Shabbat. Vayikra 25:9 states that on the tenth day of the seventh month, Yom Kippur (of the Yovel year), the shofar is to be sounded throughout the land. Sifrei asks: Why is the day specified by both the calendar date and its ceremonial name? It answers that "only the blowing of Yom Kippur overrides the prohibition of teki'at shofar on Shabbat, whereas the blowing throughout the land on Rosh Ha-shana does not set aside Shabbat."[7] Thus, the Sifrei views the lack of teki'at shofar on Shabbat as a Biblical law, like the Yerushalmi and against the Bavli.




In distinguishing between the connotations of "zikhron teru'a" and "yom teru'a," the Yerushalmi essentially defines the mitzva of shofar as two separate mitzvot: the first applicable to the Jewish people throughout the land, and the second, linked to the phrase "va-asitem ola," specifically applicable to Mikdash. Whereas this distinction explains the blowing of the shofar in the Temple when Rosh Ha-shana falls on Shabbat, it does not explain how R. Yochanan b. Zakkai (after the destruction of the Temple) could permit teki'at shofar on Shabbat in the beit din.


Aware of this question, the Yerushalmi reconsiders the phrase "va-asitem." Emphasizing its literal meaning, i.e., "you shall make," the Yerushalmi changes the definition of the action to be accomplished by the shofar as "nivreitem beri'a chadasha"- you shall be remade into new beings (Yer. R.H. 4:8).[8] I understand this to mean that the Yerushalmi is defining the mitzva of teki'at shofaof Rosh Ha-shana as a call for a thorough appraisal of the activities of the past year. In this context, it is likely that the term "Mikdash" refers not to the Temple per se, but rather to the Beit Din Ha-gadol that sat on the Temple Mount. How would we reach this conclusion?


In an earlier analysis, I presented evidence for a close relationship between the teki'ot of Yovel on Yom Kippur and the teki'ot of Rosh Ha-shana.[9] I suggest that, in interpreting "va-asitem" as directly relating to human conduct, the Yerushalmi recognizes this relationship. The mitzva of shofar on Yom Kippur of Yovel is comprised of two components: one specific to the Beit Din Ha-gadol and one directed to individuals throughout the land of Israel. The Yerushalmi applies these two aspects to teki'at shofar of Rosh Ha-shana, thereby acknowledging an obligation upon individuals for self-examination, and an obligation upon the nation as a whole, represented by the Beit Din Ha-gadol. Thus, "Mikdash" is emphasized not as the site of the Temple ritual, but as the place where the Beit Din Ha-gadol convened. These two components of the mitzva of teki'at shofar of Rosh Ha-shana can be termed "mitzvat beit din ba-Mikdash" and "mitzvat shofar she-bigvulin."


The goals of the mitzva of "beit din ba-Mikdash" and the mitzva "she-bigvulin" are similar, but the specifics differ. Beit Din Ha-gadol is required to consider major changes in the direction and activities of the Jewish nation, while the mitzva "she-bigvulin" calls upon individuals to recall and reassess personal activities. The task of the Beit Din Ha-gadol is more encompassing and of greater consequence: the "remaking" of the nation. Whereas the Torah might decide that the mitzva "she-bigvulin" is inappropriate on Shabbat and would therefore be deferred in a given year, the special character of the mitzva of the Beit Din Ha-gadol renders it mandatory every year. Indeed, after the destruction of the Temple, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai continued the mitzva in all communities having a beit din.[10]




1) The Mitzva Aspect Generates the Prohibition


Recall that both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi permit blowing a shofar on Shabbat as far as the law forbidding the use of musical instruments is concerned. Teki'at shofar in the context of mitzva is biblically prohibited on Shabbat according to the Yerushalmi and Sifrei. How would we characterize activity that is biblically prohibited only when done as a mitzva?


The Gemara (Shabbat 24b) teaches that a kohen may not burn shemen sereifa (consecrated oil which has become ritually impure) on yom tov, even though burning is the proper disposal of this oil, and burning oil per se is permitted on yom tov. Nevertheless, the fact that one is fulfilling a mitzva by burning the oil generates a prohibition to do so on yom tov. Rashi (Beitza 27b) defines the mechanism which triggers this prohibition: "Rachmana achshevei le-ha'avaratan" - the Torah imparted significance to their destruction (by making the destruction a mitzva). Tosafot (Shabbat 24b) cite several activities that are permitted for non-mitzva purposes, but prohibited if they constitute a mitzva. Apparently, the Yerushalmi views the mitzva of shofar on Shabbat similarly. Where do we find precedent for prohibiting an activity on the basis on its status as a mitzva?


Perhaps we can find precedent in the mitzva of Bal Tosif (the prohibition against adding laws to the Torah; see Rambam, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Lo Ta'aseh 313). The classic application of Bal Tosif is one who sleeps in a sukka on the eighth day of Sukkot. He transgresses, and thereby incurs the penalty of lashes, only when he intends to extend the Sukkot holiday (R.H. 28b). Such an individual indicates that he deems the Torah to be inadequate and in need of improvement.


Putting on tefillin on Shabbat and yom tov is another activity whose limitations stem directly from its status as a mitzva. Shabbat is an "ot" (a sign; a recognition of God's sovereignty), and tefillin is an "ot"; the "ot" of tefillin becomes superfluous on Shabbat (Menachot 36b). Thus, if one lays tefillin on Shabbat with the intent of fulfilling the mitzva of tefillin, he violates Bal Tosif.[11] Here, the prohibition is violated not by extending the law, but rather by performing a mitzva which will encroach upon the goal of another; in the formulation of the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 31:1), "An extra 'sign' humiliates the pre-existing 'sign.'"


With regard to teki'at shofar and Shabbat, the message inherent in man desisting from work on Shabbat is the proclamation that the world is the creative act of God, and that all of man's activities must mesh into the pattern set by God. Part of the significance of Rosh Ha-shana is man's recognition of God as the Creator of the world, and the celebration of God's choice of man as the focus of creation. In this sense, Rosh Ha-shana is an "sign" that teaches the same principles as those of Shabbat. Thus, like tefillin on Shabbat, emphasizing the shofar might impair the "sign" of Shabbat.


2) Shabbat and Shofar Represent Different Religious Perspectives


A contrasting approach to explain why the mitzva of shofar is incompatible with Shabbat is that the shofar and Shabbat represent different religious perspectives. In my previously-cited article, I suggested that the teki'ot of Rosh Ha-shana call on man to utilize the somberness of the occasion to appraise his balance between his material and spiritual activities.[12] The mitzva emphasizes man as the active agent of change in the world around him. Consider that the essence of Shabbat is the recognition that man, with all of his God-given talents and abilities, remains part of God's creation.[13] It follows that it is inappropriate for man to focus upon his own activities on Shabbat. Should the day also be Rosh Ha-shana, man can only recall that at other times he will have the opportunity to affect the values and quality of his life. When superseded by Shabbat, Rosh Ha-shana is only a "zikhron teru'a."[14]


This explanation allows that the teki'ot of the Beit Din Ha-gadol, symbolizing the call to renew their function to direct the lives and activities of the Jewish people, would not be in conflict with the message of Shabbat. The Gemara (Shabbat 150a) allows that communal affairs are tended to on Shabbat, even to the extent of permitting going to theaters, circuses, and basilicas. The derivation for this is from Yeshayahu 58:13, where the prophet prohibits activities related to personal affairs, but "the affairs of God" are permitted. Thus, communal concerns are clearly described as "affairs of God." R. Yochanan b. Zakkai acknowledged that after the destruction of the Temple, the responsibility of serving the people now rested upon the beit din in each city. The qualifications necessary to receive this responsibility remained a point of discussion from the Tanna'im through to Rishonim.




The Bavli indicates an awareness of the derivation upon which the Yerushalmi bases the Torah prohibition of teki'at shofar on Shabbat (R.H. 29b).[15] Yet, it is reluctant to accept the derivation, because of the permissibility of the mitzva on Shabbat in "Mikdash," and, subsequently, in beit din, based on the enactment of R. Yochanan b. Zakkai (R.H. 29b).[16]


It would seem that the dual mitzva concept of the Yerushalmi, i.e., beit din ba-Mikdash and shofar she-bigvulin, provides a reasonable explanation, particularly in view of the analogy to the teki'ot of Yovel (section II). Indeed, within the Bavli there are halakhic aspects that imply a separate mitzvat teki'a of beit din. In section I, we noted that Rambam holds that teki'at shofar on Shabbat was permitted to the people who lived in Yerushalayim and its environs. Ramban says that, on Shabbat, people living in Yerushalayim were expected to hear the shofar in the Temple, whereas those living in suburbs from which Yerushalayim could be seen, would perform their own teki'ot. Why should people living in and around Yerushalayim be extra-territorial status? The simple explanation is that people whose activities were connected with beit din had a separate mitzva of teki'at shofar that was applicable also on Shabbat.


Why, then, didn't the Bavli ultimately accept this idea? I suggest that the difficulty of the Bavli came about with the realization that the enactment of R. Yochanan b. Zakkai (R.H. 30a) extended the permissibility on Shabbat to "shofar she-bigvulin" (the mitzva of individuals) as well, provided that the mitzva was done under the aegis of the beit din of the city.


Elsewhere,[17] I considered why, according to the Bavli, the Rabbis didn't legislate for a special agent to blow on Shabbat. I suggested that, although in practice an individual can satisfy his obligation by hearing another person blow the shofar, the intrinsic nature of the mitzva is for each individual to be involved in the blowing, and the Rabbis felt it important not to blunt this aspect of the mitzva. Consider, now, the result of individuals doing the mitzva of teki'at shofar under the aegis of beit din: it would not be long before the mitzva of the individual would become part of the mitzva of the authority, obscuring the emphasis on personal introspection. I suggest that it was this conclusion that the Bavli found unacceptable, i.e., that the focus on individual self-examination would, in time, give way to the more efficient community-centered service, ultimately negating the primary goal of the mitzva.


The formula developed by the Bavli allows that while the existence of a mitzvat beit din is accepted conceptually, it in no way directly affects the individual. As far as the individual is concerned, there is only one mitzva of teki'at shofar on Rosh Ha-shana. On Shabbat, there are rabbinic limits that are satisfied if the teki'ot are performed in either the "Mikdash" or the beit din. In this formula, the concepts of "Mikdash" and beit din are retained, but the mitzva in practice remains an individual act of self-appraisal.[18]




When Rosh Ha-shana falls on Shabbat, the mitzva of teki'at shofar is suspended, except in "Mikdash" and, after the destruction of the Temple, in the beit din. According to the Bavli, the prohibition of teki'at shofar on Shabbat is rabbinic in origin (gezeira de-Rava), thus allowing for the exception in both the Mikdash and the beit din. The Yerushalmi derives the prohibition of teki'at shofar on Shabbat from Torah texts, citing an additional text specifically to allow the mitzva in "Mikdash." No explanation is given, however, for the permission to blow the shofar in beit din. I suggest that the Yerushalmi understood "Mikdash" to refer not to the Temple per se, but rather to the beit din that sat on the Temple Mount.


This interpretation of the Yerushalmi compares favorably with gemarot that suggest a close relationship between the teki'ot of Yom Kippur of Yovel and those of Rosh Ha-shana. The mitzva of Yom Kippur of Yovel has a component specific to the Beit Din Ha-gadol, which results in the freeing of slaves, the return of homesteads to their owners, and several other consequences of national concern (Rambam, Hil. Shemita Ve-Yovel 10:9). Similarly, with the shofar of Rosh Ha-shana, there is a mitzvat teki'a of beit din in which the beit din is called on to consider major changes in guiding the Jewish people in the forthcoming year. The communal nature of this mitzva makes it an activity compatible with Shabbat.


There is also an individual mitzvat teki'a calling on man to address the appropriate balance of the spiritual and material in his life. On Shabbat, when we recognize God as the creator and supervisor of the world, man cedes control over his own activities. Thus, when Rosh Ha-shana falls on Shabbat, individual adjustments result solely from a recognition of man's relationship to God.[19]


Why doesn't the Bavli consider a separate mitzvat teki'a of beit din? I suggest that, although the Bavli might accept the idea conceptually, it is concerned that the primary purpose of the individual mitzva, i.e., the personal appraisal, would slowly erode. With time, the mitzva would turn into mere communal identification. The decision was made to develop a formula that preserved the dual structure of the mitzva, while at the same time guaranteeing that the major focus remain on the activities of the individual. On Shabbat, the mitzva would indeed be that of the beit din, but as far as the individual is concerned, he is still performing the "individual" mitzva, with the beit din serving only to allay the concerns of "gezeira de-Rava."




[1] The text referred to reads, "Va-asitem ola" (Bamidbar 29:2). It is quoted as "Ve-hikravtem" to more clearly relate to sacrifices (Pnei Moshe).


[2] See Sha'arei Teshuva; Mishna Berura O.C. 596:1.


[3] Bavli Rosh Ha-shana 32b, 33a; Yerushalmi Rosh Ha-shana 4:9.


[4] The Gemara describes the Rabbinic concern as, "lest one carry the shofar four cubits." Tosafot ask: Why not worry that one may take the shofar from his home, a private domain, into the public domain? Tosafot answer that there are many physical indicators that remind one not to carry from the private to the public domain.


[5] See Encyclopedia Talmudit 19:250.


[6] In practice, teki'at shofar on Shabbat is limited by both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi to the Beit Din. The difference in rationale is important, however, in understanding conceptual aspects of the mitzva of teki'at shofar.


[7] Rashi, Ramban, and Meshekh Chokhma quote and discuss this Sifrei. At first glance, this Sifrei seems difficult, as there is no prohibition to override in the first place.


[8] The Yerushalmi supports the change in interpretation by noting that the term for bringing sacrifices is "Ve-hikravtem." The phrase "Va-asitem" implies a substantially broader accomplishment. An independent illustration of this is Sanhedrin 99b, which interprets several Torah texts stating "Va-asitem." In all cases, the interpretation indicates a high level of spiritual accomplishment. Devarim 29:8 states, "And you shall heed the words of this covenant, va-asitem otam." This is interpreted to teach that "one who teaches Torah to others, is considered to have created either the Torah or the individual studying the Torah."


[9] "Rosh Ha-shana and the Mitzva of Teki'at Shofar," Alei Etzion vol. 6, Shevat 5757, pp. 19-35.


[10] The teki'ot on Shabbat in Beit Din were also performed by individuals. Requiring the presence of Beit Din makes it clear, however, that the mitzva is that of Beit Din Be-Mikdash and not shofar she-bigvulin. Permission for these teki'ot was granted only to a Beit Din of special status, the specifics being a point of debate among the Tana'im, and subsequently among the Rishonim.


[11] Magen Avraham O.C. 31:1.


[12] See footnote 9.


[13] The classic declaration that "building the Beit Ha-mikdash" is superseded by Shabbat (Rashi, Shemot 31-13,35-2; see also Yevamot 6a) is the ultimate expression of this consideration. The Mishkan, God's residence on earth, is built specifically by human activity, and it is this activity from which man desists on Shabbat. The message is that sanctity is gained by the recognition that all of man's abilities and accomplishments originate with God.


[14] Alternatively, the concept and function of teru'a and shofar remain, but only as an internal expression of memory, not as an external act impinging upon the experience of Shabbat.


[15] A text that suggests an acceptance of this derivation by the Bavli is Ta'anit 14a, which states that when various troubles (siege, an overflowing river, a ship floundering at sea - situations classified as "piku'ach nefesh") befall a community, the people may cry out on Shabbat. Considering the possibility of the blowing of the shofar, the Gemara responds, "Shofarot be-Shabbat mi sharei - Are shofarot permitted on Shabbat?” - a statement suggesting a basic inappropriateness of shofar on Shabbat. However, this could refer to a rabbinic prohibition as well.


[16] Tosafot Rid (JT R.H. 4:1) suggests that the Bavli held that, whereas the Rabbis may legislate one desist from a Torah commandment (shev ve-al ta'aseh), they have no authority to permit an activity prohibited by the Torah. Thus, if Torah law prohibited the mitzva of teki'at shofar on Shabbat, the Rabbis could not legislate allowing it. The Yerushalmi held, however, that the Rabbis also have the authority to promote an activity that the Torah prohibits (kum ve-asei). Thus, even if the Torah prohibited teki'at shofar on Shabbat, the Rabbis could permit it in the presence of beit din. This explanation does not consider, according to the Yerushalmi, why the Rabbis deemed it important to permit teki'at shofar on Shabbat, i.e., to reverse the Torah prohibition. Furthermore, the accepted halakha is that the Rabbis cannot promote an activity that the Torah prohibits, except temporarily. Thus, there would be no acceptable basis for maintaining the Yerushalmi position. As noted above (section I-B), the Yerushalmi position is seriously considered, and to some extent maintained by later authorities.


[17] Alei Etzion, 6, Shevat 5757, page 24, footnote 9.


[18] A similar rabbinic approach is seen in the prohibition of cheese obtained from non-Jews (Avoda Zara 29b). R. Yishmael asks R. Yehoshua what is the basis of the prohibition. R. Yehoshua answers that the rennet used is obtained either from a neveila (the carcass of an animal not ritually slaughtered), or a calf sacrificed to idolatry. Tosafot (Avoda Zara 34b, s.v. Mipnei) note that R. Yehoshua was not serious in considering rennet of idolatry, since the Gemara indicates this to be highly improbable. Indeed, R. Yishmael's persistence leads R. Yehoshua to divert him to a totally different question. Rashi (Avoda Zara 35a, s.v. Dilma) explains that various circumstances might lead the rabbis to give explanations other than the true reason.


[19] The recognition that on Shabbat man yields his ability to effect changes in his environment, affords an alternative explanation for the prohibition of wearing tefillin on Shabbat. Menachot (37b) teaches that one should wear tefillin shel yad on the inside part of the arm, since "Lekha le-ot (Shemot 13:9) ve-lo le-acheirim" - to you it is a "sign" and not to others. The tefillin shel yad directs the wearer to be ever cognizant of his actions. Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 8a in the Rif pages) explains that one who wears tefillin shel rosh and shel yad indicates a commitment to utilize his mental and physical resources in the service of God. Thus, the tefillin emphasize man's ability to control events, contrasting with the religious perspective of Shabbat, in which man recognizes God as the source of all creation.